In the gaming industry there is a soothing clockwork that occurs throughout each year in a console cycle… The early prototype leaks devoured and fawned over by the press, the actual reveal of the system to a cheering crowd at a meticulously planned press conference, the launch of the device that is typically marred by supply issues and operating errors, and finally the software support that makes it all worthwhile. And just like clockwork, to support gaming systems everywhere each year Activision will release a new Call of Duty game that is destined to sell a quadrillion copies, and yet is almost immediately universally reviled and hated as soon as it is spoken into existence. And this year’s announced entry, Infinite Warfare, is faring no differently. Gamers reached for the dislike button in record numbers as the new COD and it’s take on space warfare continues the proud legacy of games nobody seems to want but everyone buys anyway.
The irony is that at one point Call of Duty was the David facing down the Goliaths of other franchises, eagerly trying to establish itself and break into the mainstream with its commitment to a more cinematic, dynamic, and engaging theater of war experience than what currently existed. The franchise was beloved for finally getting the shooting mechanics right, praised for turning online play into a priority for development, and then unceremoniously dumped once they became too big and successful for us to root for. Now I’m no Activision apologist, but it just seems to me that whether it’s a previously much maligned sports team like the Golden State Warriors, a major gaming studio like Activision, or newly famous celebrity (insert celebrity du jour here), a similar pattern emerges. Not long after they reach the point of becoming the Cinderella story that inspires us all, we as a community seem to immediately become Cinderella’s step-sisters and start ripping apart their dress to cut them back down to size.
Crowds are a fickle thing, and popularity and fame are fleeting objects in this crazy world that builds people up simply to have something substantial to knock down. This is not unique to massive gaming studios and people with 2 million Twitter followers either. I have a feeling each of us have experienced the frustration of temporary success and acceptance only to taste the bitter fruit of betrayal and jealousy from those who were just rooting for us a short time earlier. And I have a couple of people in mind that can give us some really solid examples of how to deal with the inconsistencies and public reactions that follow everyone who dares to follow God’s plan for their lives: the Apostle Paul, and Jesus Himself.
Let’s start with Paul, the man who’s picture in his high school yearbook was captioned “Least Likely to Become a Missionary for Jesus”. His story of moving from the persecutor of the Church to the most prolific evangelist in the Bible takes up most of the book of Acts, but it is near the end of his tale in chapter 28 that we see Paul deal with this unique challenge. Paul and an entire transport ship comprised of both Roman soldiers and criminals headed to trial are caught in a violent storm and experience a ship wreck on the isle of Malta. While Paul is doing his part to help his shipmates by gathering sticks for a fire, he is bitten by a lethally poisonous viper that was hidden in his bundle of firewood. The reaction of the onlookers should be familiar to all of us, as the judgement began immediately. The island natives quickly leapt to the conclusion that Paul must be a wicked murderer who narrowly escaped death by shipwreck, but justice had found him through this snake bite. And if Paul had been an overly sensitive person, this might have hit a little close to home because the truth is that he HAD been a zealously murderous head hunter of Christians before his conversion.
But Paul had long since accepted the grace of forgiveness that Christ had given him, and did to the snake what I wish I had the strength to do every time I am either attacked or falsely accused by someone… He shook it off. Literally, he shook the snake off his hand and into the fire and kept right on going as if nothing had happened. Trusting in the promises of protection he had received from God, he had no need to respond to the accusations and murmurings of the onlookers. And now we see the politician-caliber flip-flopping of those observing this event, as they witness that the bite that should have caused Paul to drop dead has no affect on him. They swing from accusing him of wickedness so exceptional that divine intervention had marked him for death into believing that Paul must be a god himself. Wow. No middle ground here, by public opinion he must be either devil or divine.
I guess not much has changed. As Jesus Himself experienced in his walk here on Earth, the same crowd that will deify you in one moment will absolutely crucify you in the next. And those that are already judging you as guilty will be singing your praises as soon as the tables turn. The people tried to throw Jesus off a mountain to his death in Luke 4:29 and tried to make Him King by force in John 6:15. Now that’s a pretty serious pendulum swing. And that’s why it is so important for us not to get too comfortable when we are on the mountaintop because the situation can turn very quickly from coronation to execution without us doing anything differently.
I can’t say I enjoy criticism, earned or unearned. And few critiques sting more than when you are just trying to grab some wood for the fire and your act of kindness opens up the door for attack from those you were only wanting to help. Activision is not setting out to make games that people will hate. There isn’t much of a future in a business plan like that. But their act of creation makes them a target for both praise and criticism, and the larger the platform you choose the larger the target on your back.
The examples left by Paul and Jesus encourage me to neither embrace the accolades nor absorb the insults, because both are a certainty as long as we dwell on this earth and neither have much merit. If you are enduring a similar circumstance, let me encourage you to refuse to be defined by others and to stay focused on answering your Call of Duty. There will always be haters, and often times from unexpected places. Keep your eyes on building that fire regardless, and shake off anything that would attempt to slow you down. The end of the story is that this entire series of events opened up a door for Paul to minister and provide healing prayers for many of the island inhabitants. Your pain may be the impetus for a larger ministry opportunity that won’t present itself until you shake that snake off.